Tet Offensive and the Viet Cong
February 14, 2011 7:35 PM   Subscribe

Was the purpose of the Tet Offensive to destroy the Viet Cong?

So I'm reading Matterhorn, and there's a brief mention of the Tet Offensive, and how it was designed by Ho Chi Minh to destroy the Viet Cong, as apparently they had become too autonomous. In my 20s I had a strong interest in the Vietnam War, and I don't remember learning that this was an aspect of the Tet Offensive.

Now I realize this book is a work of fiction, but generally I think historical fiction like this doesn't flub when it comes to major events like that. Can anyone illuminate?
posted by Brocktoon to Society & Culture (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ho Chi Minh wasn't the architect of the Tet Offensive at all--he was largely a figurehead by that point. Giap, who has taken credit for the Tet Offensive in his memoirs, wasn't the architect, either; he inherited the plan from another general who died shortly before Tet, whose name I forget. I think that the consensus of opinion is that the idea was that if the Tet Offensive worked, hooray, and if it didn't, it would be dismissed by the Politburo as a local uprising of the Viet Cong.

Which is not the same thing as the argument you discuss--"if it doesn't work, they'll be left holding the bag, and we'll still be awesome" isn't the same thing as "this will fix their wagon."
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:54 PM on February 14, 2011


Also, one of the reasons for framing the Tet Offensive so that it could be spun by the politburo as "Hey, it was just an uprising by those irrepressible Viet Cong" if it didn't work was to avoid a breach of relations with China.

(My apologies to Vietnamese MeFites for my laziness about diacritics.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:58 PM on February 14, 2011


Sidhedevil, the general responsible for planning it, who died of a heart attack before it started, was Nguyễn Chí Thanh.
posted by wilful at 9:18 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Tet Offensive was a major coordinated military maneuver involving conventional North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong forces throughout the length and breadth of South Vietnam.

U.S. and A.R.V.N. forces were unprepared for an attack of that magnitude, particularly since it occurred during the truce of the Lunar New Year Holiday (Tet). Although it is often discussed as if it were a Communist victory, the U.S. military was actually victorious and rendered the NVA incapable of mounting another major military operation for some time. On the PR front however, Tet was devastating because politicians and military personnel in the States had been painting optimistic and unrealistic pictures of the war and Tet revealed that to be a fiction.

As far as I ever read on the subject VC and NVA forces worked together (although VC obviously had more autonomy), but both received their general direction from the central command in the communist north. The VC was primarily the irregular/guerilla forces of Vietnamese communists. NVA was the formal military arm of North Vietnam.
posted by MasonDixon at 7:51 AM on February 15, 2011


> As far as I ever read on the subject VC and NVA forces worked together (although VC obviously had more autonomy), but both received their general direction from the central command in the communist north.

Yes, but the North Vietnamese deeply distrusted the southerners, as became apparent immediately after the country was reunited. I think Sidhedevil has it right: the VC were not targeted for destruction, they were more like cannon fodder—if they won, great; if lots of them were wiped out, that would ease the task of purging after final victory.
posted by languagehat at 8:29 AM on February 15, 2011


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